Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Montreat Conference Center Lecture Series

You can join me and Prof. Ziony Zevit for a lecture series at Montreat Conference Center this May. Full details are available here:

Montreat Conference Center

Asheville, North Carolina

May 25 – May 31, 2015 | with Mark Goodacre, Duke University and Ziony Zevit, American Jewish University

This spring, the Biblical Archaeology Society will host a very special program in the spectacular mountains of western North Carolina. We invite you to join us for a week of expert Biblical scholarship, wonderful company and relaxation in the beautiful setting of the Montreat Conference Center, located near the charming town of Asheville, North Carolina. Professors Mark Goodacre of Duke University and Ziony Zevit of the American Jewish University will present a total of 20 lectures over the course of five days, offering participants an opportunity to learn about the latest in Biblical research from renowned Biblical scholars who are also two of BAS’s most popular speakers.

Here are the details of our lectures:

Mark Goodacre's Lectures

The Apocryphal Gospels

For centuries, people around the world have been familiar with the Gospels of the New Testament. The stories of the life and teachings of Jesus in the books of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are perhaps some of the best-known accounts in the Biblical cannon. But what about the myriad of writings and accounts that did not make it into the “final cut” of the Bible that we know today? New Testament scholar Dr. Mark Goodacre of Duke University takes us on an exploration of the Gospel accounts that did not make it into the New Testament, and examines their implications for our understanding of the life of Jesus, his contemporaries and the world they lived in.

Lecture 1: The Proto-Gospel of James
A compelling prequel to the Gospels, the account known as the “Proto-Gospel of James” centers on the life of Mary and Joseph as well as narrates Jesus' miraculous birth in a cave in Bethlehem.

Lecture 2: Infancy Gospel of Thomas
This account introduces the bizarre adventures of the miracle-working, precocious, irascible
child Jesus.

Lecture 3: Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas gospel is full of Jesus' sayings and yet contains no passion narrative, no miracle stories and no story narrative. However, this valuable text may nevertheless shed light on the historical Jesus and the development of earliest Christianity.

Lecture 4: Gospel of Philip
The Gospel of Philip is the most notorious among the lost gospels, and features the lines that gave rise to the fictional account of Jesus’ life that featured so prominently in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Lecture 5: Gospel of Mary
A gospel written in the name of a woman, depicting Mary Magdalene not as the repentant prostitute of western Christian tradition, but as an important visionary and leader in the early church.

Lecture 6: Gospel of Peter
Written in the name of Jesus' right-hand man, the Gospel of Peter tells an alternative version of the Passion story in which a walking, talking cross emerges from the tomb on Easter morning.

Lecture 7: Secret Gospel of Mark
Discovered in 1958, the Secret Gospel of Mark depicts Jesus in a night-time encounter with a young man, but could this unusual text in fact be a modern hoax?

Lecture 8: Gospel of Jesus' Wife
First published by Harvard Divinity School in 2012, this tiny fragment features Jesus’ mention of "my wife.” But is it actually no more thana 21st-century forgery?

Lecture 9: Fragmentary Gospels
Many gospels only survived in fragmentary form. One of them, the Egerton Gospel, is a curious hybrid with similarities to both the Synoptic Gospels and John. Another, the Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony, is our earliest evidence of an attempt to blend the four gospels into one narrative.

Lecture 10: Gospel of Judas
First published in 2006, the Gospel of Judas instantly attained notoriety - could this really be an alternative take on the gospel story, in which Judas Iscariot is now a hero?


Ziony Zevit's Lectures

Sweet-Singers, Story-Tellers and Scribes

Most narratives in the Hebrew Bible are short, filling a chapter or less. Yet, despite an appearance of straightforwardness and simplicity, they are often complicated stories, whose characters, driven by unstated motivations, move in undescribed settings. This renders biblical narratives easy to read but difficult to understand. Understanding them, however, enables us to enter the thought-world of those who wrote them in ancient Israel, a world very different from our own. Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Ziony Zevit of the American Jewish University examines the context of some of the most well-known but perhaps little-understood narratives of the Old Testament.

How Did the Bible Come to Be?

The Creation of the Cosmos

Abraham and the Binding of Isaac

Stories about Child Sacrifice

Why Was Israel Enslaved?

Reading the "So-Called" Ten Commandments

Some Characteristic Features of Biblical Narrative

Ruth and Real Estate

The Garden Story (Part I)

The Garden Story (Part 2)

There is more at the Biblical Archaeology Society website including details on how to register.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Finding Jesus Episode 2 tonight on CNN

Episode 2 of the CNN Original Series, Finding Jesus, airs tonight at 9pm ET/PT. This episode focuses on John the Baptist and features contributions from me, Candida Moss, Michael Peppard, Nancy Khalek, Joshua Garroway, Joan Taylor, Nicola Denzey Lewis, Byron McCane, David Gibson and Ben Witherington III.

There's more on the CNN website here, including a chance to watch the first episode in toto:

Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery

There's also a Q&A that I did after last week's episode:

Finding Jesus: Shroud of Turin Q&A

The first episode did remarkably well in the ratings. It was the second highest rated CNN Original Series premiere ever in total viewers (well over a million):

CNN's Jesus Series Tops Cable News on Sunday

It's been good to see the lively discussion of the episode over the last week or so, in the blogs, on twitter, on Facebook and so on. I've done a couple more radio interviews over the last week too.

I hope to live tweet (live for those in ET and CT) during the episode tonight. You can follow me at goodacre. Also, Candida Moss will be answering viewers' questions if you want to tweet in on #FindingJesus or on the Facebook Finding Jesus page.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The "Apocryphal Urge" in Finding Jesus: A Response to Tony Burke

Over on Apocryphicity, Tony Burke has a characteristically lively discussion of the first episode of the CNN documentary Finding Jesus:

Finding Jesus Episode 1: Giving in to the Apocryphal Urge

Tony argues that the episode "demonstrates the apocryphal urge", by which he means "the temptation to retell stories from early Christian texts, thereby harmonizing disparate accounts and adding new details until a new account is created, sometimes even supplanting the original stories in the minds of readers (or viewers)."

Tony illustrates this "urge" in a variety of ways, citing my voice, Obery Hendricks's voice and the narrator's voice. While I enjoyed Tony's playful post, I would like to draw attention to several phenomena that mitigate his conclusions. The key point is the importance of understanding the medium. TV documentary is not the same medium as the academic lecture, as I am sure Tony himself knows from his experience participating in documentaries like Simcha Jacobovici's recent Biblical Conspiracies: The Lost Gospel, which explores the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene on the basis of a "decoding" of the pseudepigraphical work Joseph and Aseneth.


(1) Harmonization?

Tony suggests that the film "gives in" to the urge to harmonize the Gospels, noting that the film's introductory description of Joseph of Arimathea is drawn from different aspects in the canonical Gospels. It is important, though, to grasp something of the grammar of documentary film. You could in theory tease out what each evangelist says and where they agree and where they disagree. Speaking for myself, that's just the kind of work that I love doing! I write books on that type of thing.

But in a pacy documentary where you only have so much time, you have to find shortcuts while remaining as fair and accurate as possible within those constraints. So what we are looking at is not harmony but summary. And it is impressive that in spite of its use of standard summarizing techniques ("the Gospels say" where several details are combined), the episode still draws attention to specific Gospels. Tony does not mention that the episode regularly draws attention to what a specific Gospel says, including the use of on-screen references.


(2) Embroidering?

Tony suggests that contributors engage in "embroidering" the source material, i.e. adding things that are not in the text:
Series advisor Mark Goodacre says in the episode, “the gospels describe Joseph of Arimathea as being a sympathizer with the Jesus movement. He’s fascinated with Jesus; so fascinated that even after the crucifixion he wants to make sure that the right thing is done, that Jesus gets the right burial.” Goodacre is certainly embroidering here; the Gospels say nothing about Joseph’s “fascination” with Jesus, nor the motives behind his desire for Jesus to get a proper burial.
The idea that Joseph of Arimathea sympathizes with the Jesus movement I draw from the characterization of him as a "disciple of Jesus" in Matt. 27.57 and John 19.38. His fascination with Jesus I infer from this and from the description of his actions in reclaiming Jesus' body and burying it. It is, of course, possible that Joseph was not that interested in Jesus, but that does not seem like as strong an inference from the texts as the one that I am making. The idea that Joseph is trying to do "the right thing" is inferred from Luke's suggestion that he was "righteous".

In other words, there is a difference between "embroidery" (making stuff up) and inference (teasing out what the texts imply).


(3) Influenced by Mel Gibson?

Tony also suggests that my description of the scourging of Jesus in the documentary may have been influenced by The Passion of the Christ (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004). It isn't. It's difficult to know quite how to respond to this except to say that while it is true that I love watching Jesus films more than almost anyone else (OK, also Matt Page and Peter Chattaway), Gibson's film has exercised little influence on my historical imagination.

Incidentally, while Tony suggests that Gibson didn't think he was making stuff up, I'm not sure that's right. Gibson knew he was embroidering (e.g. "I felt that I had a pretty wide berth for artistic interpretation, and to fill in some of the spaces with logic, with imagination, with various other readings" [Interview here].) And chief among those other readings was Anne Catherine Emmerich, which absolutely dominates the film's screenplay.


(4) A flair for the dramatic?

Tony also draws attention to a place in the documentary where I discuss the crown of thorns:
One final point: Goodacre shows a flair for the dramatic when he says “they pressed [the crown of thorns] into his head so that you see blood trickling down his face.” Where do we “see” this? Certainly not in the New Testament Gospels, which only mention the soldiers placing, not pressing, the crown upon Jesus’ head.
I am tempted to be flattered by the idea that I have some dramatic flair! Unfortunately, the context of the comment shows it to be far more mundane. The documentary uses the Turin Shroud as a point of departure for discussing Jesus' Passion, and in the comment Tony quotes I am describing Jesus' passion according to the shroud, where blood trickles down Jesus' face from the presumed crown of thorns. I am, of course, a massive Shroud Sceptic (I know, I'm a horrible sceptic about all these things), but that does not mean that one cannot attempt to understand what it is that the artifact in question is attempting to depict.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Finding Jesus begins tonight on CNN

CNN begins its six part series, Finding Jesus, tonight at 9pm (ET/PT). Here's the series trailer:




And here's a clip from tonight's episode in which Obery Hendricks and I talk about the agony and shame of crucifixion:




I appear in all six episodes of the series and was also series advisor. I have spent quite a lot of time over the last few days doing interviews about the series including twelve on Friday alone! This one (Finding Jesus: New Series Likened to "CSI Jerusalem") was on CBN on Friday afternoon (via Skype):



You'll also see Candida Moss, Obery Hendricks, Ben Witherington III and David Gibson, among others, in tonight's episode, which focuses on the Turin Shroud, and uses the object to reflect on the character of Joseph of Arimathea.

Future episodes also feature Joshua Garroway, Byron McCane (Wofford Professor takes part in CNN documentary series), Nicola Denzey Lewis, April DeConick, Stephen Emmel, Christopher Rollston, Elaine Pagels and many more. Each episode explores the Jesus story by focusing on a particular artifact that is connected in some way with a key character in the story.

I have really enjoyed being involved with the series and I think you'll enjoy viewing it. I hope to comment on each episode as the series progresses, each Sunday night, and Candida Moss and I will be taking it in turns to do a Q and A after each episode airs.

I'll continue to tweet about the series and you can follow Finding Jesus on Facebook.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Killing Jesus -- first look

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while, but there's another Jesus film on the way this spring -- Killing Jesus.  It's adapted from Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s book of the same name and airs on National Geographic.  Here's a "first look":





Like most Bible films in recent years it is filmed out in Ouazazarte.  There are some great actors.  Many of them appear to be British, including John Rhys-Davies as Annas.  Kelsey Grammer as King Herod, with loads of hair, should be great too:


The piece is executive produced by Ridley Scott.  Today's Independent features a story about Jesus (Haaz Sleiman):

Killing Jesus: Muslim-raised actor Haaz Sleiman defends lead role in Ridley Scott miniseries

The casting of Sleiman (who once played a baddie in 24) looks like an inspired bit of casting, though I can't help wondering if that's a false beard:


It's one of the great mercies of Jesus of Nazareth that Robert Powell got rid of his false beard and grew one of his own instead.

Update (10 February, 6.20am): Here's Peter Chattaway's comment on his blog in January.

The Nativity (1978)

While teaching Jesus in Film, I realize that there are still several Jesus films that I have not seen.  One of these is a 1978 TV movie from the USA simply called The Nativity.  It is mentioned a couple of times (of course!) on Matt Page's Bible Films blog (here and here) and it has its own IMDb page, but otherwise there is not a lot of coverage of the film online or in the literature.

It has never been released on DVD (ignore the link on the IMDb page -- it's to something else) but it is still possible to get hold of it second hand on VHS -- and I've just ordered a copy.  I'll report back once I've received it and watched it.

There are several features of interest.  One is that it features John Rhys-Davies who is playing Annas in the forthcoming Killing Jesus.  Another is that Leo McKern plays Herod the Great.  I loved McKern as "Number 2" in three episodes of The Prisoner in 1967, though he became more famous for playing Rumpole of the Bailey.  Another great British character actor, Freddie Jones, is also in the cast.

There is a trailer online, one that advertises the video at a whopping $59.99, and this several decades ago!




There is also this great seven second preview from ABC in 1978:


40 years in Biblical Archaeology with Eric and Carol Meyers

The latest Biblical Archaeology Review has a lengthy retrospective on the careers of my Duke colleagues Eric Meyers and Carol Meyers:

Looking Back with Eric and Carol Meyers
Hershel Shanks  (02/09/2015)

It's a great read, especially the discussion of the discovery of the Torah ark from the ancient synagogue at Nabratein in 1981, which Dukies will recognize from the replica that is sitting in the passageway the the entrance of Gray Building.

The article also features the legendary picture of the Meyers dressed in Raiders of the Lost Ark garb for People Magazine in 1981 (left).

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

CNN's Finding Jesus

Beginning on March 1, a new six part documentary series from CNN, Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.  The teaser trailer is now online:



I look forward to chatting about this some more soon!

Spelling mistake in Last Temptation of Christ

The Last Temptation of Christ (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1988) begins with a quotation from Nikos Kazantzakis, but there is a spelling mistake -- it's the wrong "principle".  It should, of course, be "principal":


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Life of Brian's Parody of the Sermon on the Mount in Jesus Films

The most iconic scene in Life of Brian is, of course, the opening post-credit scene in which Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount to assembled thousands (In Judea. AD 33. Saturday afternoon. At around tea time).  Such is the success of Life of Brian that most of us are now more familiar with the parody than what is being parodied.  Everyone knows Life of Brian but relatively few are familiar with its source material.  As it happens, the scene is even funnier when viewed against the background of the Jesus films of the 1960s and 1970s.

Geoffrey Burgon's score is a superb pastiche of just what one hears at this point in both King of Kings and Greatest Story Ever Told. After shots of the crowds gathering, we have a clear shot of Jesus (Kenneth Colley) silhouetted against a blue sky.  As the camera pans back from Jesus, and as we get further and further away, we hear Jesus less and less distinctly until we arrive at Brian his mother Mandy. Mandy cannot hear a word and shouts, "Speak up!"  Iconic lines follow.  "Blessed are the cheesemakers!"  "Did you hear that? Blessed are the Greek!".

The point of the parody is the depiction of the Sermon on the Mount in the epic Jesus films like King of Kings.  Jesus is speaking to a cast of thousands and it is hardly surprising that people cannot hear:


But if you think it would take a lot of projection to speak to that crowd, compare Jesus (Jeffrey Hunter) about to give the Sermon on the Mount in King of Kings:


Jesus is so far in the distance in that shot that you can hardly see him.  Here is a little help:


It is not very different in the Greatest Story Ever Told in which Jesus (Max Von Sydow) gives his sermon to a group of disciples arranged around him in a circle, with a crowd listening at greater distance (imitating Matt. 5.1-2 and 7.28-29), and the vast landscape of Utah visible in the background:


It's not easy imagining being able to hear a word Jesus said from that kind of distance.  But take a look also at the way that Kenneth Colley is presented in close up against the blue sky in Life of Brian:


The similarity with the close-up of Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings, who is similarly preaching against the backdrop of blue sky, is clear:


The colour in King of Kings is exquisite.  Jesus wears this unusual but rather striking red outer garment only during the Sermon on the Mount sequence in the film, and Ray makes sure to accentuate the contrast with the luscious, cloudless blue sky. 

But this draws to our attention the fact that while there are real similarities between the King of Kings sermon and the Life of Brian sermon that parodies it, there is one quite noticeable difference.  Kenneth Colley in Life of Brian looks nothing like Jeffrey Hunter or Max Von Sydow.  Why is that?  Colley in fact looks similar to Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth. And in 1979, when Life of Brian was released, Jesus of Nazareth was a very recent memory.  In fact, as Matt Page reminds us, Life of Brian even used some of the same sets that were used by Jesus of Nazareth out in Tunisia.  

Jesus of Nazareth does not feature a classic Sermon on the Mount scene, though it does repeatedly feature the teaching from the Sermon, and it has one scene in which Jesus gives both the beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer to a gathered multitude relatively late in the production:


The composition here, with its gorgeous oranges and browns, is quite unlike the Life of Brian and King of Kings sermons with their blue sky mountain shots, but Robert Powell's Jesus provides a close analogue to the few seconds we see of Kenneth Colley's Jesus.  Here is Colley:


His long dark hair and beard, and the arrangement of his garments is just like Powell's:


The sermon in Life of Brian thus parodies not only the scope and grandeur of King of Kings and Greatest Story, but also the very look of the Jesus most familiar to viewers in the late 1970s, Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth.

If you need a refresher, here is the scene from Life of Brian:

video